31. Grazie Siena

English / Italiano

I didn’t envision opening up my next chapter like this.  I knew change was coming my way, but I couldn’t imagine the current scenario.   I’ve known for nearly a year that I would be leaving Siena to move two hours to the north to the city of Bologna.   I will be taking a step away from so many things that I had a hand in creating, yet I can’t bring myself to leave it all behind me.  I will still be connected and working with SIS in Siena, but in a different, new way.  Just when I started to become comfortable with telling friends and colleagues about the coming change, we all got locked away inside of our houses.  The complex plans that had been previously clear in my mind blurred into something that I still can’t quite put into focus.  

Nevertheless, here we go.  To be frank, I’ve known that uprooting from Siena was a likely outcome of marrying Marianna Bolognesi.  She’s fearlessly ambitious.  She also understands the importance of my efforts and contributions to SIS and to Siena.  Research opportunities for Marianna in Amsterdam and Oxford came and went over the past 5 years and yet Siena still remained the city in which we set our anchor.  In June 2019, Marianna was offered the position of Associate Professor in Linguistics at the University of Bologna.  This kind of opportunity in the current Italian job market is an endangered species.  Her CV is certainly strong enough, but there are so many strong candidates in Italy today that are forced to settle for temporary work or to leave Italy in order to pursue their ambitions.   A secure job at the University of Bologna is not something that neither Marianna nor myself could turn down right now.  We’ve both made so many sacrifices.  We both spent significant time living alone with our son.  Our driving hope was that our sacrifices would make way for opportunities. This is the opportunity.  

I’ve enjoyed a unique experience in Siena.  Siena is not one of Europe’s intercultural hotspots, and could be considered an unlikely place to have dedicated more than a decade creating intercultural exchange and experience for thousands of young people.   Nonetheless, that’s what I did with a wonderful group of like-minded individuals.   I am fully aware of how difficult it can be to assimilate into Siena’s local culture as an outsider.   While I have experienced some prejudice and exclusion due to being a foreigner for the most part I found it easy to move among the proud Sienese.  I have to acknowledge the fact that I start off at an advantage as a white, American male.  Even with this advantage, Siena’s social fabric is difficult to permeate.  Maybe it’s the difficulty itself that piqued my interest.  I have always been fascinated with the local culture that many perceive as fanatically devoted to the past.  I make a concerted effort to make sure that that passionate interest is open and on display.  Learning to speak like a local and showing a general interest in understanding local life has worked like a trojan horse, letting me pass through walls.  Whether people liked them or not, I brought my inherently foreign ideas with me.  My goals were never imperialistic, but rather to simply be as participant as possible in society in my own, personal way.  I searched and found common interests and uncovered spaces where my own American-acquired abilities could be put to use for everything from local development to my own entertainment.  

I found myself in situations very few outsiders have experienced.  Looking back at the things I was able to do, sometimes it doesn’t seem real.  As a kid, growing up in Denver, Colorado I never envisioned living in Siena, Italy.  I could not have even conceived of Siena as a place back then.  Yet, I found myself standing on the sidelines of a Serie A soccer field, translating for an elite player.  I forged bonds with friends for more than 15 years on the common grounds of local basketball courts, which seems ironic as I wasn’t a great basketball player growing up in the US.  I got better at the game in Siena.  Together with locals and other brilliant people I created a school, a few volunteer organizations and countless projects where people from different backgrounds work together to improve local life, even in the smallest of ways.  I have been lucky enough to experience ancient institutions and rituals from the inside.  I may have been the only American to have ever participated in the eternal rituals of the Palio by dressing in the traditional clothing, representing the city of Siena in the historic procession preceding the Palio.  My own son is also a son of Siena, baptized in the most Sienese way among the people of one of the 17 extended families.

It’s all been fascinating but walking this path, ever farther away from what could be called familiar can feel lonely at times.  At this point I don’t have a shared base of cultural common experiences with anyone.  I have an assortment of so many different cultural experiences that, put together, make a unique cultural fabric that I adorn, making me visibly different from so many around me.   When you’re different, everyone seems more eager to offer opinions on your situation.  I have heard everything from “Someone like you shouldn’t have wasted so much time in a little, provincial town like Siena” to “The only way to truly understand this place is to have been born here.”   I disagree with both of those opinions.  My ever-complicated being doesn’t make me sad, but I’ll admit that it does force more internalization of feelings than I would prefer.   

At this point, adding more and more dimensions and hues to life’s pattern seems to be the only natural form of progression.  I have been ready to take this next step now for a while but the uncertainly of all of our futures brought on by a global pandemic has added an extra layer or two of anxiety to the way that I look towards the coming change.  I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Siena and SIS, so I had figured out a way to step away, without totally separating.  Now the moment has arrived to step away, but I can no longer be sure whether to say “see you later” or “goodbye”.  

Professionally, I have spent a long time helping people adapt to new ways of life.  Now I get to use everything that I’ve learned to do some adapting of my own as I look to discover more new things.  I hope that I’ll be in Siena frequently, working with the small, independent and rebellious study abroad program SIS.  Thank you to each an every one of you who have been a part of my unique experience.